Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bl. Clemens August von Galen

You may be able to tell that I am trying to catch up on my reading of periodicals... I've been reading my latest copy of This Rock ( February 2008) and loved Joanna Bogle's article about Blessed Clemens von Galen. Her article offers another story about a fearless Catholic who stood up and spoke out against the Nazi regime, and particularly about its euthanasia program.

Joanna Bogle writes in the article: "Count Clemens August von Galen, Bishop of Munster in the Rhineland, came from one of Germany's most well-known aristocratic families. His opposition to the Nazi regime, and in particular his stance against its horrific euthanasia program, made him into an emblematic hero. He was know in his lifetime as the "lion of Munster." Recently beatified by the church, he is a figure whose life and message deserve to be better known, especially as the Second World War recedes into history."

I particularly liked his motto, chosen on the occasion of his consecration as the Bishop of Munster in 1933 -- Nec laudimus nec timere -- neither praise nor fear. Even from the early 1930's the Nazi's were making it difficult for the Church in terms of trying to suppress many of the popular religious celebrations. He encouraged his flock to try to keep the local traditions despite the difficulty. He also referred to the Nazis openly as pagan.

From the pulpit, he criticised each new restriction on religious activity... in 1941 he denounced the restrictions on Religion in the schools. As it began to be known among the German populace because of the sudden unexplained death of certain family members, Bishop von Galen collected evidence from many sources about the euthanasia of handicapped relatives. He announced this in a sermon to his people on Aug. 3, 1941 at St. Lambert's Church. Defenseless human beings were being rounded up and killed, in his words (translated): "because in the judgement of some official body, on the decision of some committee, they are judged as 'unworthy to live'; they are judged as 'unproductive members of the national community'".

This sermon was duplicated secretly and found its way across Germany and was even reported in the foreign press. He followed this first sermon with two more, which went into ever more detail.

The point von Galen made is a relevant point for all time. He pointed out that under that type of value system, no one could consider himself safe. The very ill, wounded veterans, the very old, the mentally handicapped... all were treated as if they were "animals that had passed their usefulness: Were these people to be treated "like a cow that no longer gives milk, or like an old lame horse"?"

So... as our world moves beyond the atrocity of abortion into legalized euthanasia... we could find ourselves in a similar situation. As the unborn have no voice against the very parents who should be fighting for their survival, there could also come a time when the parents of these same individuals (who have no respect for the unborn) have outlived their 'usefulness'. Perhaps when their parents become too much of a burden, families will be given the option of euthanizing them. Think about what we teach our children, our society, when we teach them that a life can be snuffed out before birth if it is an inconvenience to us! The implications for the other end of life are inescapable.

My husband has been reading several books as required reading for a Master's course he is taking. Among them was a book (The Conquerors, by Michael Beschloss) that covered information about what Roosevelt knew about the Nazi death camps. He apparently was made aware of the camps and yet refused to speak out directly against the Holocaust as it was occurring. Why he and his administration refused, I cannot say... perhaps the messy fact of dealing with the living -- accepting refugees into our country and all that goes along with it impacted the refusal...

As we approach another national election, it is crucial that those of us who value life at all stages try to do our best to help elect politicians who would try to preserve life in their policies.

Joanna Bogle's entire article can be found in THIS ROCK, February 2008.

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